Chatham County Schools Superintendent Shares His Path Into Education

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Anthony “Tony” Jackson answers questions about his career journey and vision as superintendent

Dr. Anthony Jackson
Evelyn Miranda Rangel, 6, sits at the Virginia Cross Elementary School piano with Chatham County Schools Superintendent Anthony “Tony” Jackson and Elian Umanzo Carbajal, 6.

As told to Isabella Reilly| Photography by John Michael Simpson

Anthony “Tony” Jackson grew up in Washington, D.C., and became superintendent of Chatham County Schools in July 2021. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from East Carolina University, a master’s from North Carolina Central University and a doctorate from Walden University in Minneapolis. He resides in Chatham County with his wife, Tawannah Allen, a professor at High Point University. They have two adult children and two grandchildren.

What motivated you to become an educator and eventually a superintendent?

Music was the refuge and salvation for me as I came through school. It made things make sense and connected a lot of dots academically and socially for me. I became an educator to be a music teacher much like the music teachers I had, to hopefully have the impact on students [that] those individuals had on me. Becoming a superintendent was just a natural growth trajectory for me as a leader and a person who has worked in schools and wants to impact more individuals, from students to colleagues.

Tell me about an educator who made an impact on you growing up.

Edward Jackson was my high school music teacher and probably one of the most influential people in my life. He saw something in me that at the time I did not see in myself. He pointed me toward experiences that, now that I look back, shaped what I’ve ultimately become. Any success I have in this work I owe a lot of it to the model and influence of Edward Jackson.

What was your favorite subject in school? Did you play any instruments or sports?

My favorite subject in school was clearly music, specifically choral music. [I was in the] men’s glee club, and I loved it. I found my voice there. I played the piano, clarinet and the drums, but I also played sports. I was a football player – I didn’t get on the field much, but I wore the uniform, so we’ll call me a football player.

What are Chatham’s biggest challenges, in terms of education? And what would it take to overcome them?

Our biggest challenge is ensuring that opportunities touch every end of our county. Our strategic plan, One Chatham, [outlines that] every single child, regardless of zip code, has access to every single opportunity and resource that we can bring to bear.

What are the current educational priorities for Chatham?

Anthony "Tony" Jackson answers questions about his career path and his future plans as the Superintendent of Chatham County Schools.

We are focused on making sure we have the absolute best teachers in front of our children in classrooms. We are focused on ensuring our schools are safe and orderly and that we are attentive to the needs of our students and staff.

We have a lot of industry coming in [to Chatham County], which means we are growing. We have to have long-range plans that make sense for our larger community. Most importantly, we are focused on long-term innovation that will make a difference for our kids. From the most challenged kid to the most advanced student, [we want to have] a menu of opportunities for all of them so they can grow from where they are today to where they could be in the future.

What kinds of projects are you working on right now as superintendent? Which ones are you most excited about in the coming year?

There are three main projects on the table. One is laying out a road map to manage the growth in our community. That means from building facilities to staffing and workforce to ensuring we have assessed the needs accurately so we are prepared as growth unfolds.

The second one is programmatic. We launched a study group to look at year-round schools as a model for improved student outcomes but also as an opportunity for our community to look at a different delivery model for instruction.

The third one would be looking at our programs for nontraditional pathways through school. Not every student fits the mold, and it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with them. It means we have to modify our system sometimes to support their needs. We have [also] expanded our AVID program. AVID is an acronym for “achievement via individual determination” and is a national model that focuses on preparing students for rigorous academic outcomes and postsecondary education. We have had the AVID program in our district for 12 years, so it is a proven model, and we have enough data now to say this is good for all our students. We are expanding [the program] to all of our schools, [grades] six through 12. That expansion started this year, so we are excited about that particular project and where it is going.

What do you do for fun outside of work?

I’m a music lover and a fitness guy. I love running, and I am a Peloton and treadmill warrior. I typically run anywhere between 50 to 75 miles a week. I listen to jazz, sit down and play the piano. I have two grandchildren, and if I can’t be there, I am FaceTiming them. Spending time with my wife
[as well].

Is there anything more you’d like to add?

I love what I do. Chatham County is a great place to live, grow and learn. I am absolutely fortunate to be able to serve as the leader of this community and school system at this time. I do not take it for granted; I am very fortunate to be here.

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